The Mind

The Buddha taught the truth of non-self. What is called the mind or the soul is not a self, but ever-changing mental elements which are arising and falling away. The implication of this truth is difficult to grasp. Before coming into contact with Buddhism we considered the mind to be the core and essence of the human personality. We considered the mind as that which thinks, takes decisions and charts the course of our life. In order to understand the Buddha’s teaching on the mind as non-self, it is necessary to have a more detailed knowledge of the mind. The word mind is misleading since it is associated with particular concepts of Western philosophy, it is usually associated merely with thinking. The mind according to the Buddhist teaching experiences or cognizes an object, and this has to be taken in its widest sense. I prefer therefore to use the Pāli term citta (pronounced "chitta"). Citta is derived from the Pāli term " cinteti", being aware or thinking. Citta is conscious or aware of an object.

"Mind", "soul" or "spirit" are "conventional realities". Through the Buddhist teachings we learn about ultimate realities as I explained in the preceding chapter. All mental activities we used to ascribe to " our mind" are carried out by citta, not by one citta, but by many different cittas. Cittas are moments of consciousness which are imper­manent, they are arising and falling away, succeed­ing one another. Our life is an unbroken series of cittas. If there were no citta, we would not be alive, we could not think, read, study, act or speak. When we walk or when we stretch out our hand to take hold of something, it is citta which conditions our movements. It is citta which per­ceives the world outside; if there were no citta nothing could appear. The world outside appears through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind. We think of what is seen, heard or experienced through the other senses. There are not merely cittas which think, the cittas which think are alternated with cittas which see, hear or experience objects through the other senses. When we touch something which is hard or soft, there are cittas which experience tangible object through the bodysense, and then there are cittas which think of what was touched, a table or a chair.

Before we studied the Buddhist teachings we did not consider the mind as a reality which can see or hear. The Buddha taught that also seeing and hearing are cittas. There is a great variety of cittas which each experience an object. The citta which sees, seeing-consciousness, exper­iences an object: visible object or colour. It experiences visible object through the eye-sense. Eye-sense is the "doorway" through which seeing-consciousness exper­iences visible object. Hearing-consciousness experiences sound through the doorway of the ear-sense. Seeing and hearing are entirely different cittas which are depending on different conditions. Cittas experience objects through the doorways of eye, ear, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind. Before studying the Buddhist teachings we did not pay attention to seeing as being a citta experiencing visible object through the eye-door, or to hearing as being a citta experiencing sound through the ear-door. Cittas, objects and doorways are ultimate realities taught by the Buddha.

One may doubt the usefulness of knowing details on cittas, objects and doorways. It is important to know more thoroughly the phenomena of our life which are occurring all the time. We are deluded as to the truth when we believe that they are lasting and that they are "self", or belonging to a "self", that we can exert control over them. The Buddha taught that they are impermanent, dukkha and non-self. These characteristics are not abstract categories, they pertain to seeing, eye-sense, visible object, to all phenomena which are arising and falling away from moment to moment. Since understanding of the truth of these phenomena can only gradually develop, we should begin to investigate them more closely. In the ultimate sense there are merely mental phenomena and physical phenomena. So long as they cannot be distinguished from each other, there cannot be a precise knowledge of them.

The citta which sees, seeing-consciousness, is a mental phenomenon, it experiences an object. It is dependent on eye-sense, which is a physical phenomenon. Eye-sense does not see but it has the quality of receiving colour, so that seeing-consciousness can experience that colour. Colour or visible object is also a physical phenomenon, it cannot experience anything. Seeing, hearing and the experiences through the other senses are dependent on conditions. If there were no doorways the different sense objects could not be experienced, and consequently what we call "the world outside" could not appear. When we are fast asleep, without dreaming, the world does not appear. We do not know who our parents or friends are, we do not know the place where we are living. When we wake up the world around us appears again. We can verify that there is impingement of the sense objects on the appropriate senses and this is the condition for the experience of the world around us. There are cittas which see, hear and experience the other sense objects, and these experiences condition thinking about the world of people and things. We are usually absorbed in our thoughts concerning the people and things around us and we do not realize that it is citta which thinks. We could not think of "self", person or possessions, which are conventional realities, if there were not the ultimate realities of colour, sound and the other sense objects and the cittas which experience them through the appropriate doorways.

There can be merely one citta at a time, experiencing one object. It seems that several cittas can occur at the same time, but in reality this is not so. Different cittas, such as seeing and hearing, experience different objects and are dependent on different doorways. Seeing, hearing and thinking are different cittas arising at different moments. We can notice that seeing is not hearing, that they are different experiences. If they would occur at the same time we would not be able to know that they are different. Cittas arise and fall away very rapidly; the citta which has fallen away is immediately succeeded by the next citta. It seems that seeing, hearing or thinking can last for a while, but in reality they exist merely for an extremely short moment.

There is a great variety of cittas which arise because of their appropriate conditions. There are cittas which see, hear, experience objects through the other senses and think about these objects. The cittas which see, hear, smell, taste or experience an object through the bodysense neither like nor dislike the object, they do not react to the object in an unwholesome or a wholesome way. These types of citta are neither kusala, wholesome, nor akusala, unwholesome. However, shortly after they have fallen away there are cittas which react to the objects experienced through the senses either in an unwholesome way or in a wholesome way. Thus, there are kusala cittas, there are akusala cittas, and there are cittas which are neither kusala nor akusala. Time and again there is seeing or hearing and on account of the object which is expe­rienced there are cittas which are either kusala or akusala. When there is thinking, there is either kusala citta or akusala citta. There are also cittas which motivate good or bad actions and speech. When we give a present there are wholesome cittas, kusala cittas with generosity which motivate our giving. When we speak harsh words, there are unwholesome cittas, akusala cittas with anger which motivate our speech.

Different inclinations to kusala and akusala have been accumulated. Accumulated tendencies are like microbes, they are lying dormant, but they can appear at any time when there is an opportunity for them to appear. In this connection the term "subconsciousness" is used in West­ern psychology, designating that part of the mind which is not ordinarily known, but which shows itself for example in dreams. The term subconsciousness is misleading, it implies something static. In reality there are accumulated tendencies, but they are not static, they are accumulating from moment to moment; they are conditions for the arising of kusala citta or akusala citta later on. Each moment of kusala citta or akusala citta arising today is a condition for the arising of kusala citta or akusala citta in the future. Each citta which arises falls away, but since it is succeeded by the next citta without any interval, the process of accumulation can go on from moment to moment.

There are different types of kusala citta and of akusala citta. It is important to learn more about them in order to understand ourselves, the way we behave towards others in action and speech, and the way we react towards pleasant and unpleasant events. It is citta which motivates good deeds and evil deeds. We read in the Middle Length Sayings (II, number 78, Discourse to Samaṇamaṇèikā) that the Buddha explained to the carpenter Pañcaka"ga about akusala cittas and kusala cittas:

And which, carpenter, are the unskilled moral habits? Unskilled deed of body, unskilled deed of speech, evil mode of livelihood these, carpenter, are called unskilled moral habits. And how, carpenter, do these unskilled moral habits originate? Their origination is spoken of too. It should be answered that the origination is in the citta. Which citta? For the citta is manifold, various, diverse. That citta which has attachment, aversion, ignorance originating from this are unskilled moral habits.

The Buddha also said of skilled moral habits that they originate from the citta, the citta which is without attachment, aversion and ignorance. Thus, all evil deeds originate from akusala citta and all wholesome deeds originate from kusala citta.

Akusala can be described as an unhealthy state of mind, as unskilled, blameworthy, faulty, unprofitable, as having unhappy results. Kusala can be described as a healthy state of mind, as skilful, faultless, profitable, as having happy results.

We read in the above quoted sutta that the citta is manifold, various, diverse. The akusala citta with attach­ment is quite different from kusala citta with generosity. What types of reality are attachment and generosity? Are they cittas or are they other types of reality? They are mental qualities, mental factors which can accompany citta. Attachment is an unwholesome mental quality, a defilement, whereas generosity is a wholesome mental quality. Citta can think, motivate actions or speech for example, with attachment, with anger, with generosity, with compassion. There is only one citta at a time, but it is accompanied by several mental factors or mental co-adjuncts, and these condition the citta to be so various. Greed, avarice, anger, jealousy or conceit are unwhole­some mental factors which can accompany akusala citta. Generosity, loving-kindness, compassion or wisdom are whole­some mental factors which can accompany kusala citta. The mental factors which accompany citta in various combina­tions arise and fall away together with the citta.

The commentary to the first book of the Abhidhamma, the Expositor (I, Part II, Chapter I, 67), uses a simile of the king and his retinue. Just as the king does not come without his attendants, the citta does not arise alone but is accompanied by several mental factors. As to the cittas which arise all the time in daily life, it can be said that citta is the chief, the principal, in knowing the object, and that the mental factors assist the citta. The citta which thinks, for example with generosity, is the chief in knowing the object, and generosity assists the citta to think in the wholesome way. The citta which thinks with jealousy is the chief in knowing the object, and jealousy assists the citta to think in the unwholesome way.

Among the unwholesome mental factors which accom­pany akusala citta there are three which are called "roots", namely: attachment, aversion and ignorance. Among the wholesome mental factors which accompany kusala citta there are three roots, namely: non-attachment, non-aversion and wisdom. The word "root" is used in the Buddhist teachings, since it is the firm support for the citta, being an important condition, just as the root of a tree is the firm support for the tree, the means of providing saps, necessary for its growth. The unwholesome roots of attachment, aversion and ignorance which can be associated with akusala citta have many shades and degrees; they can be coarse or more subtle. Attachment can be so strong that it motivates bad deeds such as stealing or lying, but it can also be of a more subtle degree, a degree of attachment which does not motivate any deed. Attachment can be expecting something pleasant for oneself, wishing, liking, longing, affection, self-indulgence, lust, possessiveness or covetousness. Even when we hope that other people like us, when we wish to have a good name, there are akusala cittas rooted in attachment. When we, for example, give a present to someone else there is generosity, but there can also be moments of hoping or expecting to gain something in return for our gift. Such expectations are motivated by clinging. Akusala is not the same as what is generally meant by sin or immorality. Also the more subtle degrees of attachment which do not motivate bad deeds are akusala, they are unhelpful, harmful. They are accumu­lated from moment to moment and thus attachment increases evermore. Clinging is deeply rooted and it is important to know our deep rooted tendencies. Affection is a form of attachment which is in society not regarded as harmful. One feels affection for parents, relatives, children or friends. It should be understood, however, that when there is affection, there is actually clinging to one’s own pleasant feeling, derived from being in the company of a loved one. When there is mourning for someone who has died, there is sadness conditioned by clinging to oneself. Affection conditions fear of loss, aversion and sadness. We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Part VIII, Kindred Sayings about Headmen, §11) that the Buddha, while staying at Uruvelakappa, explained to the headman Bhadragaka that clinging is the cause of dukkha. We read that Bhadragaka said:

"Wonderful, lord! Strange it is, lord, how well said is this saying of the Exalted One: ÔWhatsoever dukkha arising comes upon me, all that is rooted in desire. Desire is indeed the root of dukkha.'

Now, lord, there is my boy, Ciravāsi is his name. He lodges away from here. At the time of rising up, lord, I send off a man, saying: ÔGo, my man, inquire of Ciravāsi.' Then, lord, till that man comes back again, I am in an anxious state, fearing lest some sickness may have befallen Ciravāsi."

"Now, what do you think, headman? Would sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair come upon you if your boy Ciravāsi were slain or imprisoned or had loss or blame?"

"Lord, if such were to befall my boy Ciravāsi, how should I not have sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair?"

"But, headman, you must regard it in this manner: 'Whatsoever dukkha arising comes upon me, all that is rooted in desire, is joined to desire. Desire is indeed the root of dukkha.' "

It is impossible to be without clinging so long as the state of perfection has not been reached. We cannot force ourselves not to have clinging, but it is beneficial to realize when there is clinging, even when it is of a subtle degree, and when there is detachment. There is attachment when we like landscapes, when we enjoy shopping or talking to friends, or even when we get up in order to fetch a glass of water. Attachment can be accompanied by pleasant feeling or by indifferent feeling. When there is indifferent feeling there can still be attachment, but we may not notice it.

Aversion is another unwholesome root. Aversion dislikes the object which is experienced, whereas attachment likes it. Aversion cannot arise at the same time as attachment, but it is conditioned by it. Aversion has many shades and degrees, it can be dissatisfaction, frustration, disappoint­ment, dejection, sadness, fear, grief, despair, revulsion, resentment, moodiness or irritability. Unpleasant feeling invariably goes together with this unwholesome root. When there is even a slight feeling of uneasiness there is citta rooted in aversion. When we have envy or stinginess there is citta rooted in aversion. In the case of envy, one dislikes it that someone else enjoys pleasant things, one wants to obtain them for oneself. In the case of avarice one does not want to share one’s possessions with someone else. Aversion can also motivate killing, harsh speech rudeness or cruelty.

Another unwholesome root is ignorance. This is not the same as what is meant by ignorance in conventional language. In Buddhism ignorance has a specific meaning: it is ignorance of the characteristic of kusala and of akusala, of the truth of non-self, of the four noble Truths, in short, of ultimate realities. There are many degrees of ignorance. Ignorance is the root of all evil. Whenever there is citta rooted in attachment and citta rooted in aversion, there is also the root of ignorance. When one hears a pleasant sound, attachment is likely to arise and then there is ignorance as well. When one hears a harsh sound, aversion is likely to arise and then there is ignorance as well. Ignorance does not know the realities which arise, it does not know that attachment and aversion are akusala. Ignorance is like darkness or blindness. When there is ignorance the real nature of realities is covered up.

The three wholesome roots of non-attachment, non-aversion and wisdom have many shades and degrees. Non-attachment can be unselfishness, generosity, renun­cia­tion or dispassion. Each kusala citta is rooted in non-attachment. Whenever there is kusala citta, there is no clinging at that moment but detachment. Each kusala citta is rooted not only in non-attachment, it is also rooted in non-aversion. Non-aversion has many degrees: it can be loving-kindness, forbearance or endurance. Loving-kindness is directed towards beings, and forbearance or endur­ance can also pertain to situations and things. When the temperature is too hot or too cold there is bound to be dislike. When the benefit of forbearance is seen, one is not disturbed by the temperature and one does not complain. Wisdom is the third wholesome root. Wisdom does not accompany each kusala citta. Wisdom is a condition for the arising of kusala citta more often. Wisdom or understanding in Buddhism is understanding of realities. It has many degrees, it can be theoretical understanding of realities or direct understanding of the reality which appears. It can be understanding of kusala as kusala, of akusala as akusala, of good and evil deeds and their results, of the truth of non-self, of the four noble Truths. Understanding can be gradually developed. The direct understanding of realities leads to the eradication of defilements.

When there is kusala citta there are no attachment, aversion or ignorance with the citta. Kusala citta motivates wholesome deeds and speech. It depends on accumu­lations of kusala and akusala in the past what type of citta arises. Good friends or bad friends one associates with are also an important condition for the arising of kusala cittas or akusala cittas. When one associates with a wise friend there are conditions for the arising of kusala citta more often. There are many more akusala cittas arising than kusala cittas because of the accumulated defilements which condition them, but this is unnoticed. Just as we do not notice the amount of dirt on our hands until we wash them, evenso do we not know the amount of defilements until understanding of realities is developed.

Citta experiences pleasant and unpleasant objects through the senses and through the mind-door. When a pleasant object is experienced, attachment is likely to arise and when an unpleasant object is experienced, aversion is likely to arise. It is natural that pleasant objects are liked and unpleasant objects are disliked. It seems that we are ruled by the objects which are experienced. The pleasant object or unpleasant object is a condition for the citta which arises, but there is nothing compulsive in the nature of the object that could determine the reaction towards it. It depends on one’s accumulated inclinations whether one reacts in a wholesome way or in an unwholesome way to the pleasant and unpleasant objects which are experienced through the senses and through the mind-door. After seeing, hearing or the experience of objects through the other senses there can be "unwise attention" or "wise attention" to the object. When there is unwise attention to the object, there are akusala cittas, and when there is wise attention to the object, there are kusala cittas. When there is a pleasant object, there can be attachment and in that case there is unwise attention. We may, for example, only be intent on our own enjoyment of the pleasant object and not inclined to share it with others. Whereas, when there is wise attention, we are inclined to share a pleasant object with others, and then there are kusala cittas with generosity. When there is an unpleasant object, there can be aversion and thus there is unwise attention. Someone else may for example speak harsh words to us and most of the time we dislike such speech, we even blame that person for his harsh speech. Aversion, however, does not necessarily have to arise. When it is remembered that the person who speaks harshly makes himself unhappy there may be compassion instead of anger or aversion. When there is wise attention there can be forbearance and patience even when the object is unpleasant.

It is beneficial to learn more details about the many different types of citta: kusala citta, akusala citta and citta which is neither kusala nor akusala. When there is ignorance of akusala and kusala, the disadvantage of akusala and the benefit of kusala cannot be seen. We long for pleasant objects and we dislike unpleasant objects. Through the Buddhist teachings one learns that whatever arises is dependent on conditions. Sometimes there are conditions for the experience of pleasant objects and sometimes for the experience of unpleasant objects, nobody can exert control over the cittas which arise. Pleasant objects cannot last and therefore clinging to them will only lead to frustration and sadness. Time and again there is the arising of attachment, aversion and ignorance on account of objects experienced through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, bodysense and mind. There is enslavement to objects which arise and then fall away immediately. When the foolishness of such infatuation is realized, there are conditions to develop understanding of the realities of life. One will understand that there are countless akusala cittas arising on account of the objects experienced through the senses, akusala cittas which were not noticed before. When the characteristics of kusala and akusala are seen more clearly, there are conditions for the develop­ment of the roots of non-attachment, non-aversion and wisdom. These are the roots of kusala cittas which moti­vate the abstaining from unwholesome actions and the performing of wholesome deeds and speech.

As we have seen, there is a great variety of cittas. All cittas have in common that they cognize an object, but cittas are different as they are accompanied by different mental factors and experience different objects. Seeing always experiences visible object and hearing always experiences sound, but the reactions towards the objects and the thoughts about them vary for different people. When someone else, for example, speaks harsh words, there is the hearing of sound, and afterwards there is thinking of the meaning of the words, thinking of the person who speaks, thinking of conventional realities. Each person lives in his own world of thinking. We react to what is experienced not only with our thoughts, but also with action and speech. At the moments we do not perform good deeds or we do not develop understanding, we think, act and speak with akusala cittas. Citta determines our behaviour, citta is called in the scriptures "the leader of the world". We read in the Kindred Sayings (I, Sagāthā-vagga, Chapter I, The Devas, Part 7, §2, Citta), the following verse:

Now what is that whereby the world is led?
And what is that whereby it is drawn along?
And what is that above all other things
That brings everything beneath its sway?
It is citta whereby the world is led,
And by citta it is drawn along,
And citta it is above all other things
That brings everything beneath its sway.

In order to grasp the nature of our own life and the lives of others, it is essential to understand what citta is. In order to have more understanding of what citta is, the difference between conventional truth and ultimate truth has to be known. Conventional truth is the truth we were always familiar with before we studied the Buddhist teachings; it is the conventional world of person, of "self", of things which exist. Ultimate truth are mental phenomena and physical phenomena. Cittas are mental phenomena, they experience something. Bodily phenomena, such as the sense organs, and physical phenomena outside do not experience anything. Citta can experience both mental phenomena and physical phenomena. The physical phenomena and mental phenomena of our life arise, exist just for an extremely short moment and then vanish. Ultimate realities have each their own characteristic which can be directly experienced when it appears, without the need to think about it. By theoretical understanding we will not know what citta is. Only if there can be the devel­op­ment of direct understanding of the citta appearing at this moment, no matter it is seeing, hearing or thinking, will we truly know what citta is. When the diversity of cittas and their manifold conditions are seen more clearly the truth of non-self will gradually be better understood. One will be motivated to seek the elimination of delusion about the realities of one’s life, of the wrong view of self, of all forms of clinging, aversion and ignorance.